Twenty-five years ago, we took a train from Madrid to Nice on France’s Côte d’Azur. We, my friend Sarah and I, left our study abroad classmates behind for a holiday trip around Europe. The train was delayed in Marseille, and our basic French didn’t quite help us understand why we were stopped. Minutes became hours, and a broken-down train led to a bus ride. But the anticipation of our journey ahead buoyed our spirits and helped us to persevere.
When we finally arrived, the deep blue of the Mediterranean Sea welcomed us with its sparkling beauty. The name Côte d’Azur felt true, the Blue Coast indeed. As we walked back to our hostel after dinner, I stopped and stood close to the edge where the water hit the seawall. I saw lightning in the distance, but I wasn’t afraid. I wanted to stay there forever, to hear the waves crashing, to inhale the crisp air, to feel the droplets of cold water on my skin.
The sea always feels like home to me, but in that place and time, I felt it even more.
The next day we walked on an uphill path to the Musée National Marc Chagall, a museum that became one of my favorites in the world. It may have been the scent of lavender and herbs in the air or the taste of coffee and croissants on my tongue. It may have been the welcome of the Mediterranean the night before, or the feeling of wonder at the beginning of every journey.
Whatever it was, when I stepped into the gallery and saw Chagall’s series of Biblical images bursting with color against white walls, brightened by the sunlight streaming in through the windows, I felt profoundly moved.
My faith was already being broken open that year. Wounds from my childhood church thousands of miles away were replaced with a joyful community of friends and seekers, like Sarah, encouraging me not to lose my faith, but instead to be open to seeing it anew.
I bought two little postcards, blue and pink, The Creation of Man and Song of Songs I, and carried them with me for the next two decades. I hung them on my bulletin boards and refrigerators in New York, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Chicago. I carried Chagall with me too, spotting his art in each museum I visited around the world. For those sweet moments, I could be taken back to France.
Sarah and I had met in Madrid, but we never lived in the same city again after our year abroad. We were in and out of touch over the years, with visits, letters, and phone calls. Geography and life journeys caused our encounters to be less frequent – until a month ago when she found me online and reached out.
She told me she lives in France now, and she sent me an email with the subject line, “Remembering in October 2022 our climb to the Musée Marc Chagall, Nice, in December 1997!” She had taken her family there and shared the photos with me. Soon after the email we coordinated a Zoom call, she in France, me in Indiana, and it was magic.
I have pondered how our Chagall story became such a profound thread in our lives, keeping us connected over decades and distance. It was not just Chagall though. It was everything our 20-year-old selves held in our hearts and minds about faith and friendship and culture and independence and love. All the things we tried to figure out and support each other through. It felt so hard at times, yet often interspersed with moments of pure beauty – beauty we will never forget.
Sara, thank you so much for writing and sharing your work and your reflections. This is so moving to read and remember together with you! I am profoundly grateful for that time together, and for the opportunity to continue to connect and appreciate that meaningful season. I don’t know if I ever told you that I ended up creating a series of a few watercolor paintings as an homage to Chagall and his work after returning back to university following our year abroad in Spain and our travels. What an impact those experiences made on me, too! So thankful – for those times and for you and for your writing.